Glenn Beck, it seems, is playing the 1897 Game.
Much of what passes for the Right today is a reversed version of 1969. Haties are hippies, born followers of the previous thesis who, in the wake of a crisis for which they had no answers, are just taking their ideas to extremes.
Beck's nonsense has deeper historical roots. While we think of Populism in terms of William J. Bryan, even assigning it some liberal values because it opposed Wall Street and led to such innovations as the Income Tax and Federal Reserve, it was in fact a cross-partisan festival of hatred against "the other."
This is reflected best perhaps at the Georgia State Capitol. You won't find a statue of Jimmy Carter or Martin Luther King Jr. there. Instead you'll see this man, the Populist Thomas E. Watson.
Watson actually got a sniff of national power as a potential vice president to Bryan in 1896. His statue stands where it does, however, thanks to his later proclamations of racism and anti-semitism, which culminated in the lynching of Leo Frank and the second rising of the KKK. The statue's legend reads, "A champion of the right who never faltered in the cause."
That's Watson all over.
Keith Olbermann calls the result "Lonesome Rhodes," after the character Andy Griffith played in 1957's "A Face in the Crowd." Griffith's Rhodes was a bigoted, profane force of nature, an Arkansas con man whose act won him money, fame and power until he took himself too seriously.
Beck isn't as good an actor as Griffith. He's not as self-aware as Rhodes was. It's important that Watson did not become the man on the pedestal until his national flame had dimmed, when he became a hurricane for regional injustice, until his followers actually committed murder for him.
Beck''s probably not that strong, either.
It was the marriage with populism that destroyed Democrats' chances between 1896 and 1932, so the strategy should be to use Beck's nonsense in order to pull Big Business support away from the Republicans permanently. This is precisely what the President is doing, offering the Progressive recipe of moderate change that doesn't rock the boat, much like Theodore Roosevelt did.
The problem lies in getting the balance right. Rich fears that Obama''s not being as hard on Wall Street as he should be. He should be thundering against the Trusts and demanding more transparency, Rich believes. Maybe.
What's most difficult for a smart analyst is to trust someone. No President -- not even Lincoln or FDR -- ever won the unaffected adoration of the Chattering Classes. Not when they were alive.
This transformative leader is no different. With Glenn Back, I think we've got the GOP right where we want it. Let them have the racists, the nativists, the conspiracy theorists, and the religious nuts. They will scare away just about everyone else.
It's the reflexive habit of business, created over generations, to always vote Republican that is the wild card here. If Obama speaks softly enough to them while carrying a big stick against the biggest cheaters, he'll win. If he speaks too loudly business might take Beck's bigotry the way Rhodes' sponsors did, as something they can easily control.